Academic journal article Islamic Sciences

Trade, Commerce, Money and Market in the Islamic Experience: A Brief Overview

Academic journal article Islamic Sciences

Trade, Commerce, Money and Market in the Islamic Experience: A Brief Overview

Article excerpt

"O believers! Give provisions out of the good things you have earned."

(al-Baqarah, 2: 267)

"Wealth decreases not through charity, just as it increases not through perfidy."'

al-Ghazali, Ihya': Adab al-Kasb)

Preamble

Perhaps we may begin by citing this hadith:

   A man from among the Helpers (Al-Ansar) came to the Messenger of
   Allah, may Allah bless him and give him peace, asking him for a
   handout. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, said
   to him, "Do you not have anything in your house?" He said, "Yes, O
   Messenger of Allah, a saddle blanket (hils)--i.e., a garment
   (kisa') (2)--we wear part of it and spread out part of it, and a
   bowl we drink from." He said, "Bring both of them to me," and so he
   brought them. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and give
   him peace, took the two things in his hands and said, "Who will buy
   these two?" A man said, "I'll take them for one dirham, (3) O
   Messenger of Allah." The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him
   and give him peace, said (again), "Who will pay two or three times
   more than a dirham?" Another man said, "I'll take them for two
   dirhams, O Messenger of Allah," and so he gave the items to him.
   The Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, took the two
   dirhams and gave them to the Helper, and said, "Buy food with one
   of these and hand it over to your family, and with the other buy an
   adz (qaddum) and bring it to me." He brought it to him and the
   Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and give him peace, fixed
   to it a cane with his own hands and then he said, "Go and gather
   firewood and sell it, and I shall not see you for fifteen days." He
   did accordingly and then came back to him having acquired ten
   dirhams. With some of it he bought food and with some of it he
   bought clothes. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and
   give him peace, said to him, "This is better for you than having
   (the habit of) beggary scarring your face on the Day of
   Resurrection." (4)

This hadith provides one with much food for thought respecting Islam's general attitude towards working for a living (kasb). The poor are not to resort to beggary (su'al) (5) so long as they are physically fit and able to work for their livelihoods by pursuing a craft, trading, farming, hunting, foraging, working for a wage, and so on. Instead of giving handouts to the poor, one is to first ascertain their capacity to work and advise them accordingly, for they may not be really poor but only conditioned into thinking they are poor. Thus we find in this hadith the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, giving what we may now call "business advice" to a young man finding his way in the world.

The general idea here is trade not aid, industry not charity. My personal experience is that the poor are generally able to help themselves out of demeaning poverty and beggary into dignified self-reliance if they are given even half a chance to engage in wholesome earning and right livelihood (kasb tayyib). The verse in the Qur'an cited in the epigraph above shows quite clearly that provisioning (infaq) for ourselves and the community in general is by way of earning (kasb, iktisab, Qamal), and not by way of beggary (su'al).

Any doubt about the priority of earning over beggary is dispelled when we see the Migrants (muhajirun) refusing charity from the Helpers (ansar) but rather opting to work and earn, even though many of the former had become destitute after having been compelled to leave their property and wealth behind in Makkah when they emigrated to Madlnah.

   Originally, after the Migrants had arrived in Madinah, the Helpers
   asked the Prophet (pbuh) to divide the date-palm trees between them
   and their brethren from Makkah, which he nevertheless disapproved
   of. Then they all concurred that the Helpers divide their
   properties with the Migrants on the condition that the latter would
   give half the fruit from the orchards every year, and they would
   recompense the Helpers by working with them and putting in labor. … 
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